What is the Gift of Tongues (Speaking in Tongues) and What Does the Bible Say About It?

gift of tongues

In this blog post we are going to explore a pretty controversial topic in the Bible: the gift of tongues, which is still in operation in the church today. Over the next couple of blog posts, I will try to unpack the different types of tongues and their specific functions both within and outside of the Church walls. I will also explore why they are still so important in the believer’s everyday life today.

There are four different types of tongues to explore, and they will be discussed as we go.

Misunderstandings Concerning the Gift of Tongues

Due to the controversy surrounding this gift, a lot of churches shun and declare the manifestation of tongues to be obsolete. They say they “ceased” with first church because they were only needed for the early church.

Other churches go so far as to say that they are demonic! However, from a biblical point of view, as well as from my own eye-witnessed experience, I can personally testify that these statements are not accurate. Tongues have neither ceased, nor are they from the devil.

By the way, did you know, contrary to popular belief, that there is no such thing as the “gift of tongues”? Kaboom! Now that probably blew up someone’s doctrine on the topic right from the start. But, what do I mean by that?

When listing the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, Paul specifically used the phrase, “different kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:10 NKJV) or “various kinds of tongues” (AMP and ESV). That is because tongues vary in both manifestation and purpose of ministry, depending on the purpose for which the Holy Spirit is speaking. They also vary depending on whether they are being used in a personal or corporate setting.

Unfortunately, not perceiving or distinguishing between these varieties has caused confusion for many in church settings. What applies to one situation may not apply to another, and their misuse account for the negative views concerning “tongues” as a whole.

What Does the Bible Say About It?

Biblical commentaries also contribute to the Church’s negative view on tongues. However, Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, has a positive view on the role of tongues and their benefit to the church: “Now I want you all to speak in tongues” (1 Cor 14:5) and “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Cor 14:18).

Paul taught this “variety” exists regarding the manifestation of tongues and in how tongues are to be ministered. Like all the other gifts of the Spirit, they are only needed when we are ministering and when God wants to reveal Himself or something through His Holy Spirit. This can also include when we are praying in our personal prayer language, which is given so that we can build ourselves up “on [our] most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost” (Jude 1:20).

Secondly, another thing to keep in mind is that Paul’s address to believers on these areas was not corrective in nature, but very much a commentary on a believer’s training. This is so important to see. Why? Because if we don’t, it gives us the wrong perception of what he was wanting to do.

Paul was not wrestling against the manifestation of tongues in the Church; he was wresting or contending for the proper and full use of this spiritual gift within its correct functioning aspects. That’s why he encourages believers to let “things to be done decently and in order” (see 1 Corinthians 14:40).

The Different Types of Tongues According to the Bible

So, what are the varieties that Paul’s referring to of this spiritual gift? Just before we touch on these and just as a side note, if you look at scriptures from chapters 1 Corinthians 12 through 14, unity, variety and diversity are very common themes in his teachings about spiritual things: these include the ministry gifts, administrations, and the operational workings, but Paul reminds us that “it’s the same God who works all in all” (1 Cor 12:4-6).

In 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul describes the 2 types of tongues: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels…”.

Tongues of Men

The first part of this verse parallels what was experienced on the day of Pentecost. This type of speaking in tongues is to supernaturally speak in a known human language. A quick internet search reveals that there are roughly 6,500 current human languages, and it’s estimated by linguists that there have been roughly 30,000 languages spoken over the span of human history.

The amazing thing is that God knows them all. When this variety of tongues is used a person in the congregation gains a supernatural download of a foreign language, that they do not speak, of someone in that gathering whose native language is different than those in the church’s. The miracle is that the person can understand the message God is speaking to them for themselves. It may be that God is calling that person to Himself and into repentance. This has been seen and heard numerous times in the body of Christ and is quite amazing when it happens.

An example of this in Scripture is when the disciples received the baptism of the Holy Spirit; they “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4) and were heard by many in the crowds to be speaking “in the tongues of men” that they could understand.

Luke records the crowd saying, “How hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:8). You must take note that this is only one type of manifestation of tongues. Again, he wrote the “tongues of men” and then rounded out his statement saying, with “the tongues of angels.”

Tongues of Angels

So, what language do angels speak? This is something that we can’t speculate on, apart from the fact that the Bible is referring to another type of speaking in tongues in the language of angels. That means there must be a specific language that angels speak with each other and to God. It’s a language that the Holy Spirit can provide us if it’s needed.

As we’ve covered so far, “Various kinds of tongues” firstly distinguishes between the tongues of men and tongues of angels. In other words, speaking in tongues is a supernatural utterance in a language known or unknown to man. Now I want to go over how “various kinds of tongues” are described and used in at least three different types of utterances:

  • Man towards God
  • Man to man
  • God towards man

Now, let’s break down each one of these types of tongues in further detail using Scripture.

Man Towards God

Let’s start in chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 14:2 (NKJV) – “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.”

This is interesting as Paul states that there are utterances in which we do not speak to men, but to God. So, it’s important to identify who we are speaking to. Again, this type of speaking in tongues is not directed to man, but to God Himself.

It also says “no man understands” the one speaking. It’s only God who understands, as “in the spirit he is speaking mysteries.” This type of tongue is not meant to be interpreted by man and does not benefit other people in the Body of Christ. This tongue in fact only benefits the one speaking. This is where confusion has come because some people think that if there is no interpretation of a tongue, then it must be wrong.

However, this type of tongue is described in Jude as helping you build yourself up on your most holy faith: Jude 1:20 (NKJV) says, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit”.

This use of tongues is also confirmed in 1 Corinthians 14:4 (NJKV):“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.”

At this point I am not addressing the prophetic, only that of the first part of the scripture, which is referring to this tongue that “edifies” or builds up oneself. We can ask God for a personal interpretation of what we are saying; however again, I am not wanting to get too deep into the weeds as this point, but it is possible to ask God to reveal what our spirit is praying to Him.

Man Towards Man

In 1 Corinthians 14:6 (NKJV), we see another type of tongue: “Now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you…?”

In this scripture, I feel Paul is revealing yet another type of utterance in tongues. This one is not directed to God but directed to man. This is a known human language, even though it may not be known by some men and needs some form of interpretation. Also, the four areas of interpretation Paul states requires more details for another time. “What shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?” At this point it just means this type of tongue does need interpretation by man as it’s for and towards man.

In comparison, in verse two, the type of speaking in tongues is directed to God, not man, and therefore, no man can understand it. In verse six, the utterance in tongues is not directed to God, but clearly being communicated man to man. This requires the accompanying gift of interpretation of tongues so that the people present can understand it. As Paul said, “What shall I profit you?” For the next fourteen verses, Paul continues his thoughts and presents the role of speaking in tongues with public interpretation of the utterance that is intended to benefit the Church.

God Towards Man

Then in verse twenty-one, we see another type of utterance in tongues. We have to take note, this is a quote from the prophet Isaiah. Here, we find God speaking to man through the gift of tongues. “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people…” (1 Cor 14:21). Here, the role of speaking in tongues, as a message from God delivered to His people, is made clear. This type of utterance needs interpretation, as it’s a message directly to His Church.

Speaking in Tongues is a Huge Benefit for Us

I would like for you to notice from the examples above that the Holy Spirit is the direct and perfect prayer partner to God the Father. He is not just some Holy vapor! He provided us direct access into His own direct line of communication with God the Father. It can be compared with a computer that has a hardline of information that flows to God from us and from God freely to us—if we allow ourselves the time to do so.

In most cases, even though we will not know what we are praying about, when we do go into our gift, our prayer life in tongues, we have the amazing privilege of being able to pray His perfect prayers that directly line up to Father God via the Holy Spirit.

And since the Holy Spirit knows how to pray a perfect prayer to Father God, then we play a part in this process. And neither the devil nor anyone else will know what our prayer is about. This can act as a protection for us too. Now that’s something to ponder upon! We can pray perfect prayers that line up with His heart and mind on a subject or situation that comes forth from heaven into our own earthly realities.